Guitar Player

Dave Hunter’s Classic Gear John Lennon’s Rickenback­er 325

John Lennon’s discovery of the Rickenback­er 325 launched the guitar maker’s Invasion-era success.



popularity in the 1960s came courtesy of an unlikely and convoluted combinatio­n of circumstan­ces: a British band selling a U.S.-made guitar back to the American audience, all thanks to an admittedly oddball model originally purchased in Germany. But while anything the Beatles laid their hands on made for an easy ride in the marketing department, the Rickenback­er 325 and its brethren proved to have a lot going for them in their own right.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Rickenback­er was born in the late ’50s or early ’60s, given the way its guitars hit the scene with John Lennon and George Harrison of the Beatles, the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and the Who’s Pete Townshend, among others. In fact, this manufactur­er’s origins extend back to the very dawn of the electric guitar. Rickenback­er evolved from a team of inventors and manufactur­ers who originally worked together at National in the 1920s, trying to make guitars louder using resonator cones, before amplificat­ion became the obvious way forward. They included George Beauchamp and Paul Barth, who in 1931 developed what is widely considered the first successful magnetic pickup for guitar. With help from Harry Watson and Adolph Rickenback­er, they put this “horseshoe pickup” — so called for its U-shaped magnets — on a rudimentar­y maple solidbody guitar. Dubbed the “frying pan” for its shape, this was the first of a line of solid Spanish and Hawaiian guitars made from both wood and Bakelite that would carry the Rickenback­er (and sometimes Rickenbach­er) brand name that fronted Beauchamp, Barth and Rickenback­er’s Electro String Company.

Ownership went to distributo­r F.C. Hall in 1954, by which time Rickenback­er was on its way to becoming the jangly propellant of the British Invasion. The big horseshoe pickup still appeared on some of the revamped company’s early models, notably the Combo, but over the next few years, some moreconven­tional single-coil guitars went into production, and the line was lurching toward what we consider its classic status. By the end of the 1950s, Rickenback­er offered a model range that included hollowbodi­es, short- and full-scale solids, and semi-solids with one, two and even three pickups.

It was around this time that a young John Lennon was walking the streets of Hamburg, Germany, in search of his dream guitar. For Lennon, Harrison or any young British rock and roller of 1960, the term quality guitar was synonymous with American guitar. Lennon found his hanging in a Hamburg guitar shop in the form of a natural-finish 1958 Rickenback­er 325, which was part of the company’s Capri series (named for the Hall family cat). The 325, like the other models in the series, was designed by German luthier

Roger Rossmeisl. Harrison, who was along for the ride when Lennon bought the guitar, told BBC Radio, “It was a great-looking guitar, and I think in England you had to order them and wait for six months. Not just for Rickenback­ers, for anything — Fenders, Gibsons… And I think it [came about] purely because John needed a decent guitar and that one happened to be in the shop and he liked the look of it.”

This 325 would become the sound of Beatles rhythm guitar from 1960 to around ’65, as heard on “All My Loving,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” By the time it was thrust into the public eye during the band’s 1964 debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Lennon’s 325 had transmuted to a glossblack finish in 1962, courtesy of an English coachmaker. (A decade later it would be repaired and stripped to natural by New York repairman Ron DeMarino.)

But fans comparing Lennon’s early Rickenback­er with even slightly later 325s will notice several other things that stand out about it. For instance, later examples sported an f-hole on the upper bout that revealed the body’s semi-hollow nature, though this ’58 — an early guitar built in the model’s first year of existence — had a solid top that gave it the impression of being a solidbody. A year or two after Lennon’s 325 was made, Rickenback­er switched to the characteri­stic white-plastic pickguard with a raised forward section, rather than the flat white (and later gold) pickguard. In addition, Lennon modified his 325 by swapping its original Kauffman Vibrola for a Bigsby, and changing out the original oven-style knobs for Hofners.

Mods, rare features and refinishes aside, the Rickenback­er 325 was something of an oddball to attain legendary guitar status. Its scale length was a mere 20 ¾ inches, putting it in the student-sized range. As such, it’s likely the shortest-scale electric to attain starguitar fame. Given the limited appeal of these short-scale models, the 325 Capri wasn’t setting sales records in the late ’50s and likely would have been headed for deletion. After Lennon embraced it, however, it became one of the most desirable of all the now-vintage Rickenback­er guitars.

Tone-wise, the 325’s scale length contribute­s to a loose, wiry sound, but the key proponent of that Rickenback­er jangle and kerrang is found in its three toaster-top pickups. Although these look somewhat like mini humbuckers, they are actually single-coil units made with a central row of six individual Alnico magnet pole pieces with a coil wound around them. Their sound is appropriat­ely bright and chimey, and has played a big part in Rickenback­er guitars’ enduring popularity.

In the wake of the British Invasion, the brand found favor with ’70s and ’80s stars like Tom Petty and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreak­ers, Paul Weller, Peter Buck, Dave Gregory, Johnny Marr and many others. Despite the collectabi­lity of vintage 325s and Lennon’s enduring legacy, relatively few major stars have turned to this short-scale model, although Susanna Hoffs made her mark with one in the Bangles, and a generation earlier John Fogerty used his Fireglo 325 on many Creedence Clearwater Revival recordings and live dates. In the eyes of most players, it remains a classic model from the British Invasion.


 ??  ?? Lennon’s original Rickenback­er 325, which he purchased in Hamburg in 1960
Lennon’s original Rickenback­er 325, which he purchased in Hamburg in 1960
 ??  ?? Lennon with his second 325, in black finish
Lennon with his second 325, in black finish
 ??  ?? Playing his first 325 after it was refinished black, with Paul McCartney, onstage at the Star-Club Hamburg, December 1962
Playing his first 325 after it was refinished black, with Paul McCartney, onstage at the Star-Club Hamburg, December 1962
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom